The Man Who Defeated Apartheid With The Power Of Sports

Updated: Aug 13, 2018


He emerged into the bright winter sunshine, stepped onto the lush field and pulled on a cap. His long-sleeve green rugby jersey was untucked and buttoned right up to the top, a style all his own


On June 24 1995, Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president stood before a crowd of 65,000 that was 95% white, wearing the green Springbok jersey, the old symbol of oppression, beloved of his apartheid jailers. His colleagues had advised him against it, for the fear of enraging the black community. There was a moment of jaw-dropping disbelief, a sharp collective intake of breath, and suddenly the crowd broke into a chant, which grew steadily louder, of 'Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!' 


The underdog South Africans won the Rugby World Cup that day, beating New Zealand — the top team in the world — in the extra time of a nerve-racking final. And by pulling on that green and gold jersey, Mandela may just have saved a country that was on the brink of a civil war.

"Sport has the power to change the world," Nelson Mandela once said -- and the South African prisoner-turned-president also provided perhaps the most eloquent supporting evidence for his claim. 



"It has the power to inspire," he said. "It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than the government in breaking down racial barriers."


That last sentence was the closest Mandela came to referencing his own role in using sport to unify South Africa, a country that had been separated by skin colour and the warped political ideology of apartheid for nearly half a century by the time he became its first black president in 1994.



In his younger years, he was a boxer and a long distance runner. In his autobiography Long Walk To Freedom he described his love of boxing.

"Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, colour, and wealth are irrelevant . . . I never did any real fighting after I entered politics.  My main interest was in training; I found the rigorous exercise to be an excellent outlet for tension and stress. "he wrote. 





Two years after winning the Rugby World Cup, Mandela and South Africa repeated the trick - this time with football, a sport passionately loved by the entire county. 

With Mandela now draped in the football jersey, South Africa used home soil to win the Africa Cup of Nations, the continent's premier football event, for the first time ever.


Next Mandela brought one of the biggest sporting events in the world to South Africa. Competing against the favourites Morocco and Egypt for a bid to host the FIFA World Cup, South Africa managed to edge out the others with the help of Mandela's strong desire to bring the event to his country. 


The legacy of Nelson Mandela goes far beyond sports. He was a man who spent 27 years in unjust imprisonment, but did not turn revengeful or bitter. Who became a symbol of justice and equality for the entire world. A man who stepped up and took on the task of trying to heal a broken nation. He was a man who gave up power with ease after one term as the president. A great many lessons can be learnt from his life - one of those lessons is the extraordinary power of sports! 

(This article was published in Indiatimes)


By- Aditya Gautam